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Real pizza comes to New Orleans

Pizza-Neon-SignThis is an important announcement for the rising minority of New Orleanians — I’m talking, of course, about the retirees and college kids from New York City and surrounding areas — that finally puts an end to their eternal question: But is it worth the heat and humidity? Yes, it is worth it — because there is now good pizza in New Orleans.

Bei Tempi (901 Convention Center Blvd.), a new Italian restaurant (if you can reduce a miracle to such words) in the CBD is the answer to our prayers. As a northeastern transplant myself, I can easily recall many nights sitting at one of several local Italian restaurants, trying to drown my longing for real pizza with cheap pitchers of Abita, thinking, Why me?

The best news for the business and also the worst news for local pizza connoisseurs is the fact that Bei Tempi is located in the deepest, darkest, most avoided corner of the city: Convention Center Boulevard. It took me two separate attempts to visit the restaurant because, at first, I was overrun by a stampede of plastic nametags, gray suits, and caffeinated small talk.

A second attempt, late on Sunday night, yielded a quiet, empty restaurant. I was led past neat rows of booths, eerily apocalyptic without convention-goers, to a large oasis in the back. Hidden from sight at the entrance was a high-ceilinged room dotted with families sharing pizzas and a few local-looking couples sitting at a medium-sized bar, watching the New England Patriots game. What more could a Jersey boy possibly ask for?

I immediately took advantage of $3.95 local draught beer (Tin Roof, LA 31, Canebrake …) before being served a plate of hot garlic bread knots, which spoiled the surprise of Bei Tempi’s exquisite dough. For soup, our waitress suggested combining the minestrone and pasta fagioli for a juicy juxtaposition of bacon and greens suitable for the chilly night.

While I was at Bei Tempi to try the pizza, the menu is certainly not limited to pie. The restaurant offers more than a dozen appetizers, several salads, baked and traditional pastas, hot subs, and predictable house specialties. Lunch, from 11 – 3, includes flatbreads, pitas, chicken and burgers.

As the cheese pizza was placed before me, my eyes gravitated to the edge of the dish, where a large brown bubble married the crust to the cheese. A real, authentic bubble! Just as three primary colors compose a rainbow, the seemingly simple ingredients of sauce, cheese, and crust separated, melded, and separated again to constitute the unequivocal taste of good pizza.

“So, what’s the secret?” I asked Eric, the friendly owner who moved most of his Bei Tempi staff from Florida to start his third enterprise.

“The ingredients. It’s simple,” Eric told me. To prove his point, the New York native with an impressive culinary record took me through the kitchen to the supply room where there sat boxes of — well, I can’t give away the secret. The best cheeses and tomatoes are not distributed in Louisiana, he says, so he ships them from Florida to get the same taste.

The New England Patriots did end up winning that football game, but not before I cut into a huge piece of the most delicious cheesecake topped with thick whipped cream, melted chocolate, and cherries. “The only complaint I’ve gotten,” Eric confided, “is that the portions are too big.”

That’s one flaw I’ll gladly accept.


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